If you are heading to County Mayo on a trip to Ireland, then why not visit Achill Island. It's got some of Ireland's best beaches, along with great places to stay. I'll give you the full lowdown on what to do, where to go, what to see and where to stay in this complete guide to Achill Island.
Where is Achill Island
Achill island has a population of around 2,700 people and is is on the north westerly tip of the island of Ireland. Accessible by a short bridge, the island is fully connected to the mainland by car or camper and is a stunning place to spend a few days. With five Blue Flag beaches, some of which are the pride of Ireland, Achill has all you need for either a quite, relaxing break away from it all, or an action packed waterspouts and hiking based trip.
Watch a collection of drone footage showing the wonder of Achill from the air:
Beaches on Achill Island
For such a relatively small island, Achill has some of the best beaches in Ireland, including five Blue Flag beaches.
Keel Strand is a spectacular long beach and sits right in front of Keel Sandybanks Campsite, allowing direct access from the site to this amazing stretch of sand. It a great place for a walk, to sunbath, fly a kite or surf.
This is another Blue Flag beautiful beach right at the tip of the island. Accessible only by a steep cliff road that was cut from the amethyst Croaghaun mountain, the drive provides a spectacular view as you drive over and down to the bay itself.
With crystal clear, turquoise waters most of the year, it's a great spot to relax any time of the year. It can get quite busy (for Ireland anyway!) during the summer months, but even so, compared to other European beaches, even on it's busiest days it's still relatively quiet!
The bay used to be the base for most of the shark fishing industry during the 1950's and 60's, with many basking shark frequenting the shores of the bay. The sharks would be hunted with large spears from small wooden rowing boats covered in canvas called 'Currach's'.
Keem Bay is also said to be the location for the famous painting 'Launching the Currach' by Paul Henry now hanging in the National Gallery.
Things to do and see on Achill Island
Achill is a beautiful, peaceful island and can easily be toured within a single day. Here are some of the things you can do and see on your visit to Achill
Grace O'Malleys Castle
Visit the 15thCentury tower house that once belonged to the famous Grace O'Mally, or Granuaille, the pirate queen of Ireland!
The Deserted Village
At the base of Slievemore is a deserted village of nearly 100 stone houses, abandoned in around 1845 at the height of the Irish potato famine. The residents of the village either moved down to the village of Dooagh or emigrated, in search of a better life.
The village itself dates back to at least Mediaval times and has examples of 'lazy bed' ridges heading back up towards the mountain, which were the technique of potato farming until the famine struck.
The buildings were constructed of mortared stone and were simple dwellings of a single room. Taking a walk through the village is an eerie reminder of the hardships that the Irish faced during the dark times of the famine.
This is is a 'must see' historical site for any visit to Achill Island and as you walk along the track and peer into each of the empty houses it's a perfect place for quiet remembrance and reflection.
Achill Experience Aquarium & Visitors Centre
Achill’s first all-weather visitor centre and Mayo’s only Aquarium. The Achill Experience encapsulates many aspects of Island life both present and past.
Achill Experience helps you to explore and learn about many the different species of sea creatures from around the waters of Achill Island and from the World beyond.
They display many fascinating stories of Achill’s rich and sometimes tragic history as well as housing the first edition prints of the famous American artist Robert Henri, who lived in Achill during the 1920’s and painted local Children from Pollagh & Dooagh. They are amazing prints and the colours really bring the children to life.
Dolphin watching in Achill
It's worth bringing your binoculars with you on a trip to Achill as you may be lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins playing off the coast.
Watch the video below of dolphins playing near the beach in Keem
Another video swimming underwater with dolphins of the coast of Achill
Shark spotting in Achill
This might not be something you'd imagine doing in Ireland, but Achill Island is a very popular hangout for basking sharks. These large fish can reach up to 7 metres long and are the worlds second largest fish, and often head into the waters around the island during summer months.
But don't worry, although you might be alarmed by the daunting looking fins in the water and instantly start playing the 'Dur-Dum...Dur-Dum...Dur-Dum...' in your head - you have nothing to fear as these sharks are completely harmless and no threat to humans at all.
Their main source of food is plankton which they filter through their large mouths. Fortunately they don't have any of the scary looking teeth we think of in Jaws - the worst these sharks could do is give you a big wet kiss!
See a regular to these waters enjoying a summer swim:
Fins in the water! But nothing to worry about thankfully!
Where to eat in Achill
The Restaurant at the Lodge became an instant success when it first opened under Alex LeVieux who brought his recipe for home-made bread and pizza the restaurant. Thanks to the help of Foued Belabbas, chef from Bay restaurant Dublin, who helped design the menu it soon started attracting foodies from all walks of life. In 2010 in the same year the restaurant opened, the Pure Magic Pizza was nominated for best pizza in Ireland in the Irish Times Newspaper competition. Nowadays chef Jimmy Brossier has taken over the reigns and manages the Pure Magic kitchen team.
Irish handcrafts and coffee shop. Fully licensed restaurant. Recommended by The McKenna’s Guide 2020 & Georgina Campbell Ireland 2020 Guide. Seasonal Feb – Nov.
Wheelchair accessible. Credit cards accepted.
Achill's newest bar. Opened on 1st July 2017. It is located in the village of Keel on the site of the old Amethyst Hotel.
Where to stay in a motorhome in Achill
There are two great campsites in Achill, one on the north and the other on the souther side, and both offer great facilities and are practically on the beach.
Keel Sandybanks Caravan & Camping
Keel Sandybanks Caravan & Camping Park is a 4 Star family run caravan & camping park, located on Keel Beach on Achill Island, Co. Mayo in the West of Ireland. The park provides full services for camping and caravanning. Modern mobile homes are also available for hire.
The park provide a variety of pitches to suit all needs from camping pitches to powered hard-stands in spectacular surroundings. With Tramore Strand to the south, Slievemore mountain to the north, the Minaun cliffs to the west and Keel village to the east, the location simply cannot be beaten. The park facilities are always maintained to the highest standards and provide everything you need for your holiday.
With direct access from the park onto Keel Beach (5km), it is ideal for dog lovers. Check in is accepted up until 22:00, check out is 12:00. Reservations required for group bookings.
Achill Seal Caves Caravan & Camping
Nestled between Dugort hill and Slievemore mountain this picturesque Park is situated in a sheltered and scenic part of Achill on the North side of the Island and caters for touring caravans, camper vans, tents, rental and private mobile homes. Established in 1968, Seal Caves extends to over 7.5 acres with mature hedgerows and trees throughout. The Park stretches up Dugort hill with varying levels and offers panoramic sea views of Dugort Beach and Blacksod Bay. It is located along the Wild Atlantic Way and set in one of the most attractive and unspoilt areas of the West of Ireland. It is a well placed touring centre for all parts of Achill and West Mayo.
Sandy banks and soft sand dunes lead down from the Park to Dugort Blueflag Beach. The Beach is nearly 1 mile long of clear silver sand and is pleasant to play and bathe on. Sea fishing is possible from the rocks near the beach and at the pier nearby. A Blueway kayak trail is located directly on the beach where you can paddle from Dugort Beach along the trail to the Golden Strand Beach past the seal caves and bird colonies. Boat trips run regularly from the pier to the seal caves, Innishkea Island and Croaghaun Cliffs.
Slievemore mountain has beautiful walks and is rich in history. The Achill Mission or the ‘Colony’, Megalithic tombs, the Deserted Village and Heinrich Böll’s Cottage are all located on or adjacent to Slievemore mountain.Seal Caves is located on the Greenway and on the National Cycle Network. Other places of beauty and interest on the island which are within easy reach of the park include – the aquarium, Martello tower, Keem Bay, Minaun Heights, Atlantic Drive and Kildavnet Castle. The deep clear water that surrounds the island makes it an ideal spot for angling and deep sea diving. Ballycroy National Park is a 30 minute scenic drive from Achill.
Weather in Achill
Like most of Ireland, the weather can be changeable at relatively short notice, so always dress accordingly.
For up to date weather in Achill check out www.met.ie
The temperature of the sea in Achill
With Achill island beaches being such a haven for swimming, surfing, kiteboarding and other waterspouts, it's handy to know what the water will be like. On average January is the coldest and August has the warmest sea temperatures.
January sea temperatures of around 10 degrees C don't rise until late April when they slowly rise to a max temp of around 15 degrees C late July, and then slowly cool off again until December.
Hire a Camper and explore Achill
A perfect way to visit Achill is in a motorhome. Why not hire a motorhome from Ireland Camper Hire and see this beautiful Island for yourself? You can check availability and rates here.
Hiring a motorhome is a wonderful way to tour County Mayo (and the rest of Ireland!) and take in the sights at your own pace - and remember, be it with friends, family or as a couple, there's no holiday like a holiday in a cosy camper!
Further Information on Achill Island
Finally, if this blog hasn't persuaded you to head on up and visit this magnificent island, here's another short film about Achill Island.